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Private Prescriptions: Cost, Legality & Important FAQ

Private Prescriptions: Cost, Legality & Important FAQ

What Is A Private Prescription?

A private prescription is a term used to describe a medication prescription not covered under the National Health System (NHS). However, it can be written by an NHS doctor or another qualified prescriber. In this post, I will be looking at some common questions surrounding private prescriptions, including:

  • Obtaining private prescriptions
  • Legality
  • Expiry times
  • Private prescriptions Cost

Private Prescriptions: How To Get One?

There are many ways of getting private prescriptions.

Private Prescriptions From A GP

Your GP can issue a private prescription; however, GP may not issue a private prescription as an alternative to the NHS FP10 prescription in primary care settings. GPs prescribe only limited items on a private prescription (BMA, 2018). These commonly include malaria prevention medication and erectile dysfunction medication. NHS, for example, suggests a prescribing limit of 4 sildenafil tablets per month per patient. If more is needed, patients need to get it another way, such as via private prescription service.

Quick FAQ

Can you receive private medications through the NHS?
No. The NHS does not pay the Cost of private medications. This implies that consumers must pay for the Cost of medication obtained through a private prescription and any additional markup charges imposed by the pharmacist.
How long does a private prescription last?
A private prescription is valid for 6 months from the date of issue.

Private Consultation With A Doctor

  • If treatment is needed with medication after a private consultation has taken place (face to face) with the prescriber, a private prescription would be issued to a patient. This is possible, for example, through an appointment in a private hospital, clinic, or dentist.
  • When a referral is made to a private clinic by the NHS, and the patient is provided with a private prescription for their treatment, patients can request the same medication to be prescribed on the NHS.
  • When a private doctor advises on treatment, which requires medication, a GP may issue an NHS prescription based on the recommendation if she/he agrees with the advice.

Online Doctor Services

  • There is a growing number of “online doctor services”, which offer appointments with a doctor via different online means such as a website or a smartphone app. This usually means that patients have an actual conversation with a doctor. If a doctor decides that a medication is needed, she/he will issue a private prescription for a medication. Prescriptions are usually sent by email or available to download from the website. Patients need to take this prescription to a pharmacy in order to get a supply of the drug. In this case, the patient needs to pay to cover the Cost of the drug supplied.
  • Note: a private prescription that is printed at home or faxed to a pharmacy does not meet legal requirements as it is not signed in ‘indelible ink’. Although many pharmacies accept printouts / faxed prescriptions in practice, you may be refused a supply of medication. It is also important that the issuer of private prescription contacts the pharmacy to confirm that the original prescription will be delivered to the pharmacy, for example, by post.

Online Services (No Contact With A Doctor)

  • Some medicines, such as sildenafil (Viagra), are directly available from most major online pharmacies. You can buy viagra online easily from a legit pharmacy. Patients are usually required to submit a health questionnaire screened by a doctor who then issues a private prescription. Online services may charge a consultation fee and a fee for issuing a private prescription.
  • Many online pharmacies may have a set price, which includes all of these fees in one product price. Once suitability is assessed, the customer pays for the product, with a price that includes the Cost of a private prescription. Customers normally have an option to deliver the medication or collection from a conventional pharmacy.

Private Prescriptions: Who Can Issue One?

Any prescriber approved by Human Medicines Regulation 2012 can issue a private prescription. This includes:

  • A doctor
  • A dentist
  • A supplementary prescriber
  • An independent nurse prescriber
  • An independent pharmacist prescriber

For How Long Is The Private Prescription Valid?

Private prescription expires 6 months from the issue date unless Schedule 2, Schedule 3, or Schedule 4 controlled drug is prescribed. Private prescription for Schedule drugs 2-4 is valid for 28 days. You can read more about prescription expiry times in my separate post.

Quick FAQ

How long is a private prescription of controlled substance valid?
It is valid for a duration of 28 days.

How Long Is A Repeatable Private Prescription Valid For?

For repeatable private prescriptions, first dispensing needs to be done within 6 months of the issue date, following which there is no legal time limit for dispensing. However, a pharmacist would take into consideration the time between each dispensing and use professional judgment and need for the medication.

Private prescriptions can be repeated; however, this needs to be clearly defined by a prescriber. Some prescribers clearly state the time scale for dispensing private prescriptions and its repeats, for example, ‘please repeat 5 times within 6 months from the issue date.

What Can Be Prescribed On Private Prescriptions?

Almost any drug can be prescribed on a private prescription. However, specific classes of controlled drugs have special prescription requirements. For example, Controlled drugs Schedule 2 (for example, methylphenidate class) and 3 (for example, tramadol, gabapentin, or pregabalin) require a special private prescription form (FP10PCD) and can only be issued by some prescribers.
A private prescription can be written on any piece of paper for other drugs. In order to be valid, a private prescription needs to meet specific legal requirements.

A private prescription must be written by a qualified prescriber and must include

  • Signature of the prescriber (written in indelible ink)
  • Address of prescriber
  • Qualification of the prescriber (e.g., their registration number)
  • Date
  • Name of the patient
  • Address of the patient
  • Age, if the patient is under 12 years of age

Additionally, If A Control Drug Schedule 2 or 3 Is Prescribed:

  • Form, strength, and dose of a drug prescribed
  • The total quantity of the drug written in words and figures

EU Private Prescriptions Legality

Can You Dispense A Prescription Written By A Foreign Doctor?
Prescriptions from the European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland are acceptable in the UK as long as they meet all legal requirements. Additionally, EU prescriptions need to have:

  • Full details of prescriber including a telephone and email contact and work address
  • Details of the medicine prescribed, name (where possible generic and brand name), form, strength, quantity, and dosage instructions for prescribed medicine

A prescription that was written in a different language can still be dispensed, providing all legal requirements are met. Visit the Gov. UK website for a list of all prescribing-approved countries.

What will happen after Brexit?
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK Government advised that pharmacies should continue to dispense the European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss prescriptions (Gov.UK, 2019).

Where Can I Fulfil Private Prescriptions?

All high street pharmacies can fulfill private prescriptions. Some online dispensing pharmacies can also process private prescriptions. This normally means you need to post your private prescription before its processed.

How Much Does A Private Prescription Cost?

The price for the supply of medication on private prescription is driven by the Cost of drug supplied and markup. Most pharmacies have a minimum charge for processing private prescriptions. For example, Lloyds Pharmacy charges a minimum of £5 for fulfilling a private prescription, and Tesco Pharmacy just £2. Pharmacies usually charge an additional 10-20% on top of the Cost of the drug.

This means that you can get some common drugs at a much lower cost as compared to the NHS standard prescription fee, which is currently £9. For example, a box of Amoxicillin 500mg capsules (21 capsules) would cost around £1.5, and therefore you would be expected to pay a minimum charge, which can be as little as £2 (Tesco Pharmacy). There are plenty of commonly used drugs that are very cheap and would require a minimum payment when a private prescription is presented.

Can I Get An Estimate Price For Fulfilling Private Prescriptions?

The easiest and quickest way of getting the price for a private prescription is to call a pharmacy or to walk in and ask for the estimate. Alternatively, you can estimate the Cost of private prescriptions from the price information provided by pharmaceutical wholesalers. AHH Pharmaceuticals, one of the main wholesalers of drugs in the UK, provides price information on generic medication, updated monthly. A generic price list is located on the AHH website. All prices are subject to alterations without notice.
You can estimate the Cost of a private prescription by looking at the trade price and multiplying it by a 20% markup price. Keep in mind some pharmacies will charge a minimum fee.

Generic v/s. Branded Products

It is worth mentioning that generic drugs are cheaper than the same branded version in many cases. Whenever possible prescriber should issue a private prescription with the drug being prescribed in generic form. In practice, this advice may be hard to execute. If a drug exists in both generic and branded versions, a pharmacy team will be able to supply either form as long as the prescription is written for a generic drug.

Other Common Questions Surrounding Private Prescriptions:
I was issued a private prescription via online service (with/without consultation with a doctor) do I have to pay for medication supply if I take my prescription to a high street pharmacy?

Yes. Patients can use online services for a private consultation with a doctor. In some cases, patients are charged an admin fee for a private prescription. This, however, does not cover the Cost of drug supply in high street pharmacies.

I Am Normally Age Exempt When I Collect My NHS Prescriptions. Do I still need to pay for my Private Prescription?
Yes. The Cost of private prescriptions is not covered by any NHS exemption, including the age exemption. Patients under 18 and over 60 pay for medication supply on private prescriptions.

Can I Use My Prepayment Card/NHS Prepayment Certificate As An Exemption For Private Prescription?
No. As mentioned above, the Cost of private prescriptions is not covered by any exemption, including the NHS prepayment certificate.


Can you get private prescriptions on the NHS?
No. the Cost of private prescriptions is not covered by the NHS. This means patients need to pay for the Cost of medication supplied on private prescription plus any additional markup cost that the pharmacy may have.
How long does a private prescription last?
Private prescription expires 6 months from the date it was written unless a controlled drug schedule 2-4 was prescribed. In this case, the prescription expires 28 days after its written date.
Do private prescriptions have to be handwritten?
There is no standardized form for private prescriptions. A private prescription can be handwritten or typed. The prescribed signature must be handwritten in 'indelible ink,' Therefore, a printed private prescription does not meet legal requirements.
Can a GP write a private prescription?
GP can issue a private prescription. However, in primary care settings, GP may not give private medicine as an alternative to NHS FP10 prescription because it is cheaper. In practice, only limited items are prescribed by GPs on a private prescription.